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In the summer before his fifth year at Hogwarts, Harry found himself staring at a door that Hermione had said wouldn’t open for anyone.

After the Dementor fiasco, Harry arrived at Grimmauld Place, and Hermione and Ron filled Harry in on their summer. Harry hadn’t been happy with either of them; he’d much rather have been cleaning doxies and dark artifacts with his friends than weeding the Dursleys’ garden or washing the Dursleys’ floors for the third time in one week.

Even more irritating was the fact that their lack of communication with him had apparently been by Dumbledore’s orders. Dumbledore, who hadn’t even bothered to look him in the eye during his trial, had effectively commanded his friends to abandon him. Even more hurtful, they’d listened.

He’d made a half-assed attempt at hiding his irritation before his trial. After the trial, however, Dumbledore’s completely apathetic attitude towards Harry made him not bother holding it in any longer.

And on top of everything else, Ron and Hermione had been chosen for prefects of Gryffindor, while Harry, who had actually come face-to-face with Voldemort only months earlier, had nothing to show for it except a series of articles in the Prophet that portrayed him as ‘The Boy Who Is Touched In the Head.’

All of this had led him to be rather sour with Ron and Hermione. He knew he took his anger out on the wrong people, but it made Harry feel better. After that, it seemed, they’d taken to avoiding him.

Harry was oddly okay with this. The more they avoided him the less his scar prickled.

So he’d formed a new hobby of wandering around Grimmauld Place, staring at the oddities and peering at old portraits until he came across the door that Hermione must’ve been talking about. He knew she said it was on the top floor, at the end of a dimly lit hall.

There was something strange about the door. Harry couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, but he found himself feeling drawn to it. To be honest, he wasn’t even sure why he went to the top floor in the first place; his feet just seemed to have taken him up the stairs. He knew that should probably have alarmed him considering he was in a house chock full of dark artifacts, but the door didn’t feel threatening.

He reached out and tried the knob, and the door opened.

Harry blinked, then wondered if it was something like a pickle jar in a Muggle sitcom; everyone trying the door earlier in the summer had loosened something so it could open for Harry.

As he poked his head in the door to peer in, a few torches around the perimeter of the room flared to life, and he saw walls lined floor to ceiling with books. A few chairs and a desk resided in the middle.

Harry’s first instinct was to get Hermione. After all, it was clearly a library, probably full of books Hermione had never heard of. But then he remembered that he was still irritated with his friends, and he stepped inside to explore without them. He could tell them later.

The torches seemed to brighten as he neared one of the shelves. He ran his finger along the spines of a few books; they were clearly old, but they seemed to be in good condition, although many didn’t have a title or author printed on the spine. He pulled one off of the shelf at random and flipped it open, and the text almost seemed to leap out at him.

Shadow Walking is a branch of shadow magic that can be immensely useful in a variety of applications. It is one of the first magics a shadow mage will learn and is a staple of the mage’s arsenal, as one must master shadow walking prior to commanding shadows to shift.

Obviously, to begin learning shadow walking, and therefore to begin learning shadow magic, one must have already completed the declaration rites of being a dark witch or wizard. It is recommended that the next step -

Harry stopped reading, startled. He flipped the book to the front cover, and a title appeared. Introduction to Specialized Arts of the Dark Path, it read. He turned the book over to glance at the spine of the book and then looked back up at the shelves, realizing that he could now read all of the titles, as if it just took time for his eyes to adjust.

As he took in the titles - Infusing Flame and Darkness, Mind Arts and Dark Magic, and Nearly Undetectable Curses and Hexes, to name a few - he abruptly realized that the entire library was dedicated to the dark arts.

He knew that should terrify him, but it didn’t.

Harry chalked up his lack of alarm to knowing what the house was. Sirius had told him that his family had been Voldemort sympathizers, at the least, and Hermione and Ron had said that they’d been disposing of dark artifacts all summer. He knew he should go get someone and let them know what he’d found, but something made him hesitate.

There might be something useful buried in here, Harry thought. After what happened in the graveyard at the end of last year, Harry didn’t want to risk losing something he could potentially use against Voldemort. In the back of his mind, Harry knew that was a strange thought for him to have, but chalked it up to wanting to use anything and everything at his disposal after seeing Voldemort resurrected. He supposed that Dumbledore’s complete lack of information likely wasn’t helping, either. Harry felt like if he found himself alone as he had in the graveyard, he wanted to be able to do more than a mere ‘expelliarmus.’

Voldemort killed Harry’s parents, after all. Cedric died because of him. Harry didn’t want to lose anyone else, and if there was something that could help him save even one person...

Harry pulled Undetectable Curses from the shelves and the book he already had in his hands fell to the ground and opened to a different chapter. He was just reaching down to retrieve it when something in the text caught his eye.

Dark healers tend to be much more proficient in healing damage caused by dark curses; in fact, only dark healers have managed to fully cure curse scars, which are scars left by extremely dark magic, whether on purpose or as unintended side effects. If they are unable to cure a curse scar, dark healers are far more willing than a standard healer or medi-wizard to remove the affected part of the victim’s body -

Harry found himself slowly sinking to the floor. He set the book on curses aside and kept reading, wondering if the book would cover exactly what curse scars were. He’d been told his own scar was a curse scar more times than he could count, but no one had ever bothered to explain exactly what that meant.

***

A few hours passed before Sirius found him.

Harry sat cross-legged on the floor and had completely surrounded himself with books by that point, having used bibliographies to track down other books mentioned in the ones he’d already skimmed. He’d gone from reading about curse scars to dark protections to wards that could be set to activate depending on the attacker's intent, and gone right on to flip through various volumes, trying to find more references to something called 'soul magicks.'

Above all else, it seemed like the dark arts were just a different branch of magic, and just like the magic he’d learned at Hogwarts, it could be used for right or wrong purposes. Sure, there were some fairly awful rituals mentioned, but many - like some of the dark healing spells he’d found in Specialized Arts of the Dark Path - seemed even more helpful than some of the spells he’d learned at school.

Harry knew that he was likely reading biased material but he kept wondering how dark arts could really be so evil and bad like he’d been told since he’d been introduced to the wizarding world. Wasn’t something like ‘dark healing’ an oxymoron?

“Harry?”

Harry looked up at Sirius, startled to see his godfather standing in the doorway. “Sirius! I was just -”

“The door opened for you?”

There was an expression on Sirius’s face that Harry couldn’t interpret. Harry shrugged. “Yeah. I mean, everyone else trying earlier probably just… loosened something.”

Sirius still had that strange look on his face. “Right.”

Harry felt like he was being judged, and he instantly became defensive. “I was just… I mean… I found something about curse scars, and nobody ever explained to me about mine, and I…” He trailed off, feeling awkward, and mentally prepared himself for a lecture from Sirius.

Sirius just stared at him for a few long moments, and Harry felt even more awkward. Harry grew uncomfortable, and he had to drop his eyes to the floor.

It made sense that Sirius would be disappointed to find Harry surrounded by books on dark arts; after all, Sirius left his family because of their immersion in the dark arts... hadn’t he?

Sirius finally broke the silence. “Is that ‘Nearly Undetectable Curses and Hexes’ over there?” He let out a laugh, and Harry looked up again. “I absolutely loved that book when I was in Hogwarts! Reg had to get me my own copy because I kept stealing his.” Sirius finally entered the room and sat down on the floor in front of Harry, picking up the book in question. He leaned over into a half-lying position, propping himself up on one elbow, and he flipped through the book while Harry watched, dumbfounded. Sirius came to a certain page he’d apparently been looking for and let out another laugh, more jovial than the last. “This one - carinitus - I used that one on your father more than a few times in the Gryffindor common room. It’s basically a pantsing hex. He never caught me at it, but I had a feeling he knew it was me.” Sirius grinned at Harry. “I can teach it to you, if you’d like, just as long as you promise to never cast it on a girl.”

Harry felt stunned. “Sirius, isn’t it…”

“Dark arts?” Sirius thankfully finished Harry’s question for him. “Technically. Barely.” He rolled his eyes. “Yes.” He sighed. “I mean, it’s one of the least harmful spells in this book.” He flipped through another few pages and pointed out a different spell. “This is actually one James asked me to teach him. Flips people up in the air and upside down. He liked using it on Snivellus, until it came out that Death Eaters had been using it on Muggles -”

“Wait,” Harry said. “Are you saying my dad used dark arts?”

Sirius shook his head. “James didn’t know it was dark until I told him. I know I probably should have told him, but I didn’t know how anti-dark arts he was until after I taught him, and by then he’d been using the hex for over a year…” He sighed. “That was the second biggest argument we ever had.”

For the first time since stepping into the library, Harry felt guilty. He knew his father likely hadn’t been a fan of the dark arts, but if he had gotten mad at his best friend over something so small, he probably wouldn’t be a fan of Harry surrounding himself with books on the dark arts.

Harry was also confused. “But… didn’t you leave your family because of their practicing dark arts?” he asked. “The way you were talking about this house… and them…”

“No,” Sirius replied. “I left because they supported Voldemort.” He sighed again. “There’s also dark arts, and then there are black arts that can eat away at your soul or start affecting your mind. My mother was really into that kind of magic, and she kept trying to drag Reg into it…”

“So… someone that practices dark arts isn’t necessarily a dark wizard?” Harry asked.

“Uh, that’s…” Sirius coughed. “Well, dark witches and wizards aren’t necessarily evil, and ‘dark wizard’ also doesn’t mean a follower of the so-called ‘Dark Lord.’ Dark just means dark, Harry.” He glanced up at the set of shelves behind Harry. “Actually, there’s a book here…” He stood up and started scouring the titles, obviously looking for something specific. “I was probably around eight years old when I read it, but seeing as how you’re just now looking into this… ah-ha!” He pulled a thinner book from the shelves and passed it to Harry. “If you’re really interested in all this, you should probably start here. I am many things, but a professor is not one of them.”

Harry slid his thumb under the title: An Introduction to the Dark Arts: The Power, Prejudice, and Politics. Harry grinned and he immediately flipped the book open to skim the table of contents. He felt like he could suddenly understand Hermione’s excitement over books.

“Harry.” He looked up to see Sirius still watching him. “Do me a favor. Please don’t tell anyone about this room. I may hate this house - and I mean, I really hate this house - but there’s a lot of knowledge here that can’t be found anywhere else. The Black Library is one of the best family libraries in all of Britain.” He sighed. “But some people won’t care about that, and they’d just want to destroy everything in here.”

Harry quickly agreed; after all, in addition to the possibility that he could find something useful in the library, he found that he quite enjoyed the few hours he spent there. If he had to admit it, he felt more at peace in that room than he’d felt all summer.

“You don’t have to read that now, though,” Sirius said, grinning. “There’s something else cool about this library. If you’re okay with learning them, how about I teach you a few of those undetectable hexes?”

***

As it turned out, the library had what Sirius called an ‘isolation ward,’ which Harry thought sounded like something from a hospital, but actually meant that Harry was able to use magic in it without setting off the Ministry trace. Due to what had happened with the Dementors only a week prior, Harry asked Sirius at least ten times if he was sure that the ward still worked, and Sirius told him to cast a simple ‘lumos’ and to wait.

He cast one, they waited, and no owls appeared.

Sirius may not have been a professor, but he was brilliant at practical teaching. He showed Harry a few of the more fun and creative spells from Nearly Undetectable Hexes and Curses, and to the astonishment of Sirius, Harry could cast them successfully after only a few attempts. He was already planning on trying them out on Malfoy once school started. They practiced together until dinner, and he was unable to stop grinning.

Mrs. Weasley was the only one who dared to comment on Harry’s improvement in his mood. “You’ve been in a right state since you got here, Harry,” she said. “It’s nice to see a smile on your face.”

Harry returned to the library the following day, and he started and finished the dark arts introduction book. Mrs. Weasley scolded him for disappearing when it was time to help with cleaning Grimmauld Place, but he didn’t care. The book was fascinating and enlightening.

From what Harry gathered from the book, until recently, dark wizards and witches had been considered more like a Muggle religion, or maybe even similar to a Muggle political party, than how they were currently viewed - dark cloaks skulking in the shadows, laughing maniacally, and plotting world domination. The Dark Lord Grindelwald’s actions had sullied the reputation of dark witches and wizards across all of Europe and Asia.

Although the book had clearly been written before Voldemort’s rise, he supposed that Voldemort hadn’t helped their reputation, either.

Harry also learned that using ‘dark’ magic was simply pulling on a different type of magic than the spells that he learned in school. Dark magic and light magic were the two biggest magic ‘families,’ but there were other types that weren’t studied as much, such as earth magic or wild magic.

Something else Harry found interesting was that it turned out to be true that the majority of dark wizards resided in Slytherin House at Hogwarts. Although it wasn’t all of them - there were a fair number in Ravenclaw, as well - the sullied reputation of dark witches and wizards was enough to have earned Slytherin the identical reputation as the ‘evil’ and ‘bad’ house. As Hogwarts began banning the use of all dark arts - including the more helpful arts - the split became even more prominent.

And as for dark wizards themselves, Harry discovered that a wizard wasn’t truly considered ‘dark’ simply because they practiced dark arts. They actually performed ceremonies before they could declare themselves dark, like some kind of rite of passage. After a dark wizard officially declared, they would have easier access to the dark arts and they could potentially become more powerful, depending on the witch or wizard. However, sometimes wizards could become temperamental, as dark magic was rather volatile. It was apparently important that a dark wizard work with the dark magic, rather than try to control it - or worse - allowing the magic to control them.

This didn’t dissuade Harry, and he also began trying more of the spells from the Undetectable Curses book. He learned a curse that made a victim unable to sleep, as well as a curse that would result in the victim becoming a magnet for a creature of the caster’s choice, such as spiders. Ron would keel over, Harry thought absently.

He wasn't actually able to test the success of those curses, so he tried some of the hexes. He perfected something called an ‘elemental mine’ in one afternoon - laying down an invisible glyph on the ground, and when someone walked over it, it could freeze or electrocute or burn the victim, depending on what spellwork was worked in with the glyph.

At some point, Harry realized that he was throwing himself headfirst into learning about the dark arts. He chalked it up to just wanting to learn any and every way he could defend himself against Voldemort, but there was something about it all that just felt right to him. He wanted to learn everything he can.

Harry was scouring the shelves to see if he could find any dark defensive spells when Sirius came into the library.

“Harry,” Sirius said, both his tone and face rather grim. “McGonagall is here to see you.”

“What?” Harry asked. “Why?”

***

“Simply put, Potter, you’ve been expelled,” McGonagall said.

A bolt of pain flashed through his scar. “What the fuck -” Harry started to say, but McGonagall cut him off.

“As we are not currently in school I will allow that comment to slide, Potter, but really -”

“Well, since I’ve been bloody expelled it’s not like you can take points, is it?” Harry said rather nastily. Sirius let out a bark of a laugh from the corner of the dining room.

“Mr. Potter!” McGonagall snapped. “If you would allow me to finish what I’m saying, you could fully understand the situation you’re in. Then you may make your smart comments. Please have a seat.”

Harry supposed that was McGonagall’s way of saying ‘sit down and shut up.’ He sat at the table, and McGonagall pulled out the chair across from him.

“In short, you were expelled after receiving the underage magic notice from the Ministry of Magic,” she said. “It was an error. It should never have happened, and the decision has obviously been reversed.”

“Then… why are you here?” Harry asked hesitantly.

“Because when the magic of the school detected that you had been expelled, you were removed from the school’s registry. When the decision was reversed, you were re-enrolled as a new student.”

“And that means what for me? I have to take all of my old tests again?”

“I should hope not. The thought of having to grade your second year Transfiguration work is a nightmare I’d rather not relive,” McGonagall said, giving Harry a slight smile. “No, it means that as of right now, you are no longer in Gryffindor.”

“So… put me back in Gryffindor?”

“We are confident that will indeed be the result. However, until the sorting hat officially places you back in Gryffindor, the magic of the school will not tie the award or loss of points to your house.”

Harry tensed up at the thought of the sorting hat looking into his head for a third time. He tried not to let his trepidation show, so he shrugged instead. “So what? Me not losing points anymore would probably help Gryffindor, so…”

“This includes any points earned from Quidditch.”

“Oh.”

“So we will need to have you officially placed back in your house at the sorting ceremony. We have decided that you will be treated as a transfer student, so you will be sorted after the first years.”

Her words finally started really sinking in with Harry. He was going to be sorted again. “Um, Professor?” he asked. “What happens if the hat puts me… somewhere other than Gryffindor?”

“As I mentioned earlier, we think it’s highly unlikely that you will be placed elsewhere,” she said. “However, if it does, you will simply join your new house.”

Harry wasn’t nearly as confident that he was going straight back to Gryffindor, but he didn’t say so.

“Do you have any questions, Potter?”

Harry’s mind raced, and he kept finding his thoughts returning to the sorting hat’s words to him in both his first and second years. The blasted hat wanted him in Slytherin then, and Harry didn’t think anything had happened to change its mind.

Especially since Harry had this shiny, new fascination with the dark arts, and that new determination to ‘use any means’ to defeat Voldemort… hadn’t the sorting hat said exactly that about Slytherins? And hadn’t he learned in his reading that Slytherins were indeed more invested in the dark arts than any other Hogwarts house?

Crap, Harry thought. I’m definitely going to Slytherin this time.

“Harry?” Sirius said quietly from the back of the room. Harry had honestly forgotten he was there. He realized that McGonagall is still waiting for his response.

“I don’t really have any questions, Professor,” he said. “At least not now. Except… can I at least sit with Gryffindor until my… re-sorting? I’d like to explain to them what’s happening. Just in case.”

“Understandable,” McGonagall replied. “And yes, you may.”

“Harry, there’s nothing to worry about,” Sirius said. “Both of your parents were Gryffindors, and you’re as Gryffindor as they come. There’s no way you’re going anywhere else.”

***

Hermione and Ron seemed to be just as confident as Sirius that Harry would go straight back to Gryffindor. Fred and George treated it as a joke, saying that Harry could potentially get them business for Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes in houses they didn’t have access to. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley agreed with the others, pointing out that both of his parents had been in Gryffindor. Harry began to doubt his certainty of winding up in Slytherin.

Even so, he turned back to the Black Library and started looking up ways to ward his bed and belongings. Just in case. Despite everyone else’s confidence that Harry would go back to Gryffindor, he could potentially wind up sleeping in the same room as the children of Death Eaters, after all.

He supposed there was a slight chance of Ravenclaw, what with how much he’d been studying, but he didn’t think Ravenclaws would approve of him only being especially studious in only one subject.

All the while something else wriggled around in the back of Harry’s mind - something he wasn’t yet entirely prepared to face head-on. Even so, his mind kept circling back to it: his newfound fascination with the dark arts.

Harry had accepted that he was too interested and invested in the dark arts to stop his new path of research. He absolutely knew it should alarm him, and that he should ask Sirius about how far could be too far. But Harry didn’t want to run the risk of Sirius telling him to stop when all he wanted was to learn more. Unlike the subjects he studied at school, which mostly felt like a chore, he wanted to soak up all of the dark arts knowledge he possibly could.

All that led Harry to his current dilemma.

It wasn’t just that Harry was worried that his new interest would make him a shoo-in for Slytherin; he was also worried about how he could continue learning about the dark arts while he was in Gryffindor. He would have to hide his interest in Gryffindor, whereas Slytherin might actually encourage him in his new studies.

Slytherin, of all houses, could actually wind up being useful to him, and that was making Harry not completely dread the fact that he could wind up among the snakes. He could learn from them.

That was the thought that scared Harry the most; he should have completely and absolutely dreaded the mere thought of going to Slytherin. He should certainly not have been almost intrigued by the idea.

But despite himself, it was intriguing him. Even though he had nothing to confirm that any of the Slytherins like Malfoy or Parkinson were into dark arts, he had enough circumstantial evidence to support his theory. And although he despised those Slytherins, he couldn’t help but wonder if they could pass him knowledge about the dark arts that he couldn’t gain from the Black Library.

The timing of everything seemed almost auspicious. He’d started learning about the dark arts almost by accident mere days before McGonagall told him of his need to be sorted again.

Harry’s entire life - everything he’d built since coming to the wizarding world - would change if he went to Slytherin. He’d likely lose his friends, and would probably have to watch his own back even more than he had in prior years because he wouldn’t be among people he trusted. Even Sirius, who seemed to be accepting and even a little encouraging of Harry’s new field of study, had expressed his dislike of Slytherin more than once.

He loved Gryffindor. Despite his recent irritation, he loved his friends. He loved what the house stood for. He didn’t want to lose any of the ragtag family he’d gained since entering the wizarding world.

The hat lets you choose, Harry desperately reminded himself. It takes your desire into account. I just have to want Gryffindor enough .

***

Aside from Sirius making an unannounced trip with them to the station, the train ride to Hogwarts was, thankfully, relatively uneventful, although awkward. Ron and Hermione quickly abandoned him for the prefect meeting, and he found himself in a car with Ginny, Neville, and an odd Ravenclaw named Luna Lovegood.

Ginny was the only other person in the train car that knew of Harry’s imminent sorting, and she didn’t mention it. Harry silently thanked her. Harry distracted himself with Luna’s strange magazine called ‘The Quibbler,’ and he was amused to see the article on Sirius.

It was relatively peaceful until Ron and Hermione joined them after their prefects meeting. Of course, Draco Malfoy appeared soon after, and everything about Harry’s re-sorting came rushing back to him.

I can’t possibly wind up in the same house as him, Harry thought, staring at Malfoy in barely-concealed horror.

“What are you looking at, Potter?” Draco demanded, snapping him out of his stupor.

“Nothing pleasant,” Harry muttered, wishing he could sink into his seat.

“Manners, Potter,” Malfoy said with a smirk. “Or I’ll have to give you detention -”

“Good lord, Malfoy,” Harry said. “I am so not in the mood for this right now. Please go away.”

Malfoy, as he expected, smirked even wider. “Did I touch a nerve? Not used to being second-best to -”

Hermione stood up. “Just get out!” she shouted. To Harry’s amazement, Draco departed, and Hermione slammed the door after him.

“Did you really just say ‘please’ to Malfoy, Harry?” Ron said, his mouth full of a chocolate frog.

Harry faced the window and rolled his eyes. The now-familiar prickling in his scar had returned, and he desperately wished he could just be alone for the rest of the ride.

***

“Where’s your uniform, Harry?” Dean asked as soon as Harry sat down. Harry’s black cloak wasn’t adorned with the Gryffindor crest like the others.

“Um.” Harry had specifically asked to sit with the Gryffindors prior to his sorting so he could explain what was going on, but now that he was here he had absolutely no idea what to say or how to even bring it up.

“Will they just reset it… after?” Hermione asked, and Harry feels a wave of gratefulness towards her. He knew she could tell how uncomfortable he was, and she was trying to give him a window to ease into the conversation.

“After what?” Dean asked.

“After I get… sorted,” Harry said. “Again.” Harry, with interjections from Hermione, explained to the other fifth years why and how he had to be sorted after the first years.

“But you’ll come right back here,” Ron said, somewhat unhelpfully.

“Hopefully,” Harry said. “I mean, it’s not like it’s guaranteed.”

“Where else would you go, Harry?” Dean asked. “Slytherin?” He started laughing, and Ron and a few others joined him. Harry didn’t, and he noticed that Seamus didn’t, either.

The sorting of the first years seemed to go by faster than it ever had before, and then Dumbledore stood up.

“We had a series of unusual circumstances occur over this past summer, which has resulted in one of our older students needing to be sorted again,” Dumbledore said. “We expect this is likely just a formality, but nevertheless, it needs to be done.” He paused for just a moment. “Harry Potter?”

Harry braced himself and stood up, and then he heard Pansy Parkinson shriek with laughter from the Slytherin table. “Did Potter flunk himself all the way back to first year?”

Perfect, Harry thought. Keep up that heckling; that way I won’t even be remotely tempted into wanting to be in the same house as you.

The hat seemed to loom even larger than it had when he was a small first year, but when he sat down and McGonagall placed the hat on his head, the rim of the hat no longer slipped over his eyes. That left him able to clearly see every person in the Great Hall watching him with interest, so Harry closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see them looking at him.

“Mr. Potter,” a familiar voice said in his ear. “It is so rare that I get to speak with a student twice, much less three times, and it’s even rarer that I actually get to sort a student more than once. You are a tricky one.”

Gryffindor, please, Harry thought as hard as he could.

“Now, then, Mr. Potter,” the hat said. “It is my job to place students where they will thrive and be happy - which is why I will listen to a student’s desire. However, I would like you to listen to me before I place you anywhere.”

Harry swallowed.

“Despite your insistence on Gryffindor, you don’t have nearly as much aversion to Slytherin as you did in your first year. I still stand by the fact that you would do extremely well in Slytherin.”

But there are the children of Death Eaters there, Harry thought. I would be in danger.

“Only as much danger as you put yourself in every year,” the hat replied. “The students themselves pose no danger. And I think the Slytherins will be able to teach you, whereas you have already learned everything Gyffindor has to offer you.”

Harry tried as hard as he could to not think about learning dark arts from the Slytherins, but the hat seemed to pick up on it anyway.

“It’s not just dark arts and magic generally unknown to Gryffindors,” the hat said. “You need to learn how to think like a Slytherin: how to use every tool at your disposal, and how to survive what’s thrown at you.”

I don’t want to think like a Slytherin, Harry thought desperately. They’ve been nothing but cruel to me and my friends.

“Those are not the defining traits of a Slytherin, though,” the hat said in reply. “And the Slytherins of recent years have been cruel more as a reaction to outside forces, rather than as an inherent part of their Slytherin traits.”

That comment just confused Harry, so he decided to try a different tactic. I’d lose all of my friends if I went to Slytherin.

“That would be entirely up to you and them,” the hat said. “You can be friends with those outside of your own house, after all. And who's to say you wouldn't make friends in a new house?” The hat paused. “But I fear we’re getting off track.

“Slytherin has more to offer you than Gryffindor - that much is a fact. Let me put it this way, Mr. Potter - what do you want to get out of your last few years here at Hogwarts?”

Harry paused. I want to defeat Voldemort, he thought. I want to be able to defend the people he’s attacking. I don’t want anyone else to die.

“Unfortunately, I think people dying in the upcoming war will be inevitable,” the hat said. “But with one track you may be able to lessen the blow, and you may be able to save more.”

Then that’s the one I want, Harry said. Gryffindors defend others. They’re brave and will stand up to anything. That's where I belong.

The hat chuckled softly. “But just imagine what a Slytherin with the heart of a Gryffindor could accomplish?”

The hat fell silent for a moment, and Harry realized that he could hear a growing crowd of whispers in the Great Hall. People wondered what could possibly be taking so long. Harry opened his eyes and to see that everyone still stared at him, and he shifted uncomfortably on the stool.

“Let them stare,” the hat said. “They will always stare, no matter where you wind up. You must answer me now - will you allow me to place you where you can accomplish what you wish to accomplish?”

Ever since McGonagall had come and spoken to him, Harry had imagined a thousand different conversations he could have had with the sorting hat, and none of them had gone the way this one had. He’d been determined to think of nothing but how much he wanted to go to Gryffindor, and instead the blasted hat made him doubt everything.

He’d started looking into dark arts because he wanted to defeat Voldemort. He wanted to stay with Gryffindor in order to save others. Even though the end goal was essentially the same, the two were clearly not compatible with one another, but Harry didn’t think he’d be willing to give up one for the other. Gryffindor wouldn’t allow him to continue researching the dark arts, and his continued study would surely get him in trouble in his old house.

“Mr. Potter, you are close to becoming a hatstall. Will you allow me to place you or not?”

Harry finally realized exactly what the hat was asking him, and he realized that he couldn’t delay any longer. He closed his eyes again. Put me where you think I belong, he thought in resignation.

Harry swore he could actually hear the hat smile in satisfaction, and a sudden wave of regret swept through him. A split-second decision made under pressure was going to determine his last few years at Hogwarts; what if it was the wrong one? No, he thought. Wait -

"Too late, Mr. Potter,” the hat said. “Despite your hesitation, it’s clear that you know exactly where you belong, and it’s been clear to me from day one that you belong in... SLYTHERIN!”